Sex Work Is Associated With Increased Vaginal Microbiome Diversity in Young Women From Mombasa, Kenya

Aida Sivro, Ruth Mwatelah, Cheli Kambaran, Henok Gebrebrhan, Michael G. Becker, Huiting Ma, Nichole R. Klatt, Alexander S. Zevin, Nzioki Kingʼola, Sammy Wambua, Peter Gichangi, Eve Cheuk, Paul J. McLaren, Sharmistha Mishra, Marissa Becker, Lyle R. McKinnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Although nonoptimal vaginal bacteria and inflammation have been associated with increased HIV risk, the upstream drivers of these phenotypes are poorly defined in young African women. SETTING: Mombasa, Kenya. METHODS: We characterized vaginal microbiome and cytokine profiles of sexually active young women aged 14-24 years (n = 168) in 3 study groups: those engaging in formal sex work, in transactional sex, and nonsex workers. Vaginal secretions were collected using self-inserted SoftCup, and assayed for cytokines and vaginal microbiome through multiplex ELISA and 16S rRNA sequencing, respectively. Epidemiological data were captured using a validated questionnaire. RESULTS: The median age of participants was 20 years (interquartile range: 18-22 years). Approximately two-thirds of young women (105/168) had vaginal microbial communities characterized by Gardnerella and/or Prevotella spp. dominance; a further 29% (49/168) were predominantly Lactobacillus iners. Microbiome clustering explained a large proportion of cytokine variation (>50% by the first 2 principal components). Age was not associated with vaginal microbial profiles in bivariable or multivariable analyses. Women self-identifying as sex workers had increased alpha (intraindividual) diversity, independent of age, recent sexual activity, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections (beta = 0.47, 95% confidence interval: 0.05 to 0.90, P = 0.03). Recent sex (number of partners or sex acts last week, time since last vaginal sex) correlated with increased alpha diversity, particularly in participants who were not involved in sex work. CONCLUSION: Nonoptimal vaginal microbiomes were common in young Kenyan women and associated with sex work and recent sexual activity, but independent of age. Restoring optimal vaginal microflora may represent a useful HIV prevention strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-87
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of acquired immune deficiency syndromes (1999)
Issue number1
Early online dateMay 18 2020
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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